Azaleas and camellias. Sunset climate zones 7-9, 14-17: Winter and spring months are good times to shop for blooming azaleas and camellias. Don't let the flower color alone determine your choices, though; before purchasing a plant, make sure it's healthy and its leaves are lush and green. Avoid plants that have pale leaves, overly leggy growth, or roots protruding through drain holes.
Maples. Zones 2, 7-9, 14-17: The following small- to moderate-size trees are perfect for home gardens. Acer truncatum (also grows in zone 1): Deeply lobed, 4-inch-wide leaves start out purplish red, change to green in summer, then become orangish and maroon in fall; grows to 25 feet or taller. Japanese maple (A. palmatum): Many varieties to choose from, including ones with deeply cut leaves or variegated foliage; heights range from 7 to 20 feet tall. Paperbark maple (A. griseum): Leaves are dark green above, silvery below, and turn brilliant red in fall; reddish-brown bark peels away in thin sheets in winter; grows to 25 feet tall. Look for these trees in nurseries, or order by mail from Mendocino Maples Nursery ( www.mendocinomaples.com or 707/937-1189) or Wildwood Farm Nursery & Sculpture Garden ( www.wildwoodmaples.com or 707/833-1161).
Strawberries. Zones 7?9, 14?17: 'Sarian' strawberry is a new variety that produces sweet, medium-size fruit from midsummer until fall the first year after planting. You can start plants from seed ($2.49 from Renee's Garden, www.reneesgarden.com) or buy organically grown seedlings ($2.95 each from Natural Gardening Company, www.naturalgardening.com or 707/766-9303).
Summer-blooming bulbs. For unique varieties of begonias, dahlias, gladiolus, lilies, and other summer bloomers, order bulbs by mail now. The following sources sell all types: Antonelli Brothers Begonia Gardens ( antnelli.infopoint.com or 888/423-4664), Dutch Gardens ( www.dutchgardens.com or 800/944-2250), and McClure & Zimmerman ( www.mzbulb.com or 800/883-6998). For dahlias only, try Swan Island Dahlias ( www.swanislanddahlias.com or 800/410-6540).
Feed citrus. Zones 7-9, 14-17: For best performance, citrus trees need lots of nitrogen. Feed orange, lemon, and grapefruit trees six to eight weeks before bloom time in spring. For mature trees, citrus nursery Four Winds Growers ( www.fourwindsgrowers.com), in Fremont, recommends a nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium fertilizer ratio of 2-1-1, along with trace minerals (iron, zinc, manganese). For young trees (1 to 3 years old), use controlled-release granular fertilizer, which won't burn plants. Apply according to package directions.
Prune. Zones 7-9, 14-17: January is the prime time to prune deciduous flowering vines, fruit and shade trees, grapes, and roses. (For spring-flowering plants such as lilacs and Japanese snowball, wait to prune until after they have bloomed.) Use pruning shears to cut branches or stems up to 3/4 inch in diameter, loppers for branches 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter, and a pruning saw for branches more than 1 inch in diameter.